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Despite the 7 July bombings and repeated terror alerts, UK hospitals remain under-prepared for a major incident, according to research published today.

In the wake of last summer's attack, the authors of a report in the British Medical Association's Emergency Medicine Journal, surveyed senior accident and emergency doctors. They found of 144 respondents at 34 hospitals, almost half said they had not read the major incident plan.

Only 54 per cent were clear on what role they would perform if their hospital were involved in an incident with a large number of casualties.

Hospitals in London fared no better than those in lower attack risk areas, despite a series of high-profile simulations.

Hospitals blamed lack of funding and dedicated major incident coordinators for the failure to improve preparedness. They said technology required to deal with situations most effectively is not available to them. A similar study in 1996 found an equally worrying lack of readiness.

The authors conclude: "Preparedness for major incidents in the UK remains poor 10 years after [the original survey]. Effective major incident plans require forethought, organisation, briefing of relevant staff, and regular rehearsal."

Responding to the criticism, health minsiter Rosie Winterton said: "A huge amount of work has been done to make sure the NHS is ready to respond to major incidents."

The Department of Health said NHS trusts are required to have a major incident plan which should be tested at least annually. ®

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